CHAR­LIE PORTLOCK

Char­lie Portlock tells why hunt­ing shouldn’t be the only rea­son to be afield

Air Gunner - - Contents -

Don’t mis­take a love of hunt­ing for a love of killing, says Char­lie.

Hunt­ing is a hard sell to the unini­ti­ated. What most peo­ple don’t re­alise is that shoot­ing is but one el­e­ment of what we do, and they tend to mis­take a love of hunt­ing for a love of killing. We know that these things are very dif­fer­ent, but it’s a dif­fi­cult dis­tinc­tion to ex­plain to those who might have made up their minds al­ready. As many of us who spend time in the field al­ready know, the ac­tual shoot­ing makes up a tiny per­cent­age of the ex­pe­ri­ence, and it’s the jour­ney and not al­ways the ob­jec­tive that draws us back again and again. With this in mind, I’ve been re­al­is­ing that for many of my small ad­ven­tures with the ri­fle, the shoot­ing gives me the purpose, but it’s the nat­u­ral world that gives me the plea­sure. The ri­fle is there to pro­vide din­ner, but it also gives us a great ex­cuse to be out alone in wood­land and pas­ture.

For those who are out to con­trol pop­u­la­tions for forestry or agri­cul­tural pur­poses, the case may be dif­fer­ent be­cause there’s a need to fo­cus on de­liv­er­ing con­sis­tent bags in a va­ri­ety of con­texts. This kind of shoot­ing is more of a ser­vice, and in the case of pest con­trol, a sort of offering to be given in re­turn for the priv­i­lege of per­mis­sion. These re­la­tion­ships cre­ate pres­sure for the air­gun­ner to de­liver the goods, or they risk be­ing re­placed by some­body more ef­fec­tive. It’s a shame for this to be the case be­cause it en­cour­ages the shooter to fo­cus on nu­mer­i­cal goals and can lead to dis­ap­point­ment and stress when some of these im­posed tar­gets go un­met.

As the sea­sons have changed, we’ve seen trans­for­ma­tions in the land­scape and the ac­tiv­ity of the an­i­mals within it. Most ex­cit­ing of these has been the fal­low deer rut and this has pro­vided the per­fect chance for me to prac­tise my stalk­ing on these large mam­mals, as well as take the air ri­fle along for some of the squir­rels that share the same habi­tat; you can eas­ily stalk both an­i­mals at once.

NEW AD­DI­TION

The lat­est ad­di­tion to my cabi­net is the Weihrauch HW100 PCP (.177) mounted with a now age­ing but re­li­able Hawke 3-9 x 50. I’ve also fit­ted a novel bi­pod from Ver­sa­Pod. Thanks to Paul Ste­wart from Scott Coun­try, the im­porter, who was very help­ful in an­swer­ing my fit­ting ques­tions. No great thing per­haps, but a small kind­ness can go a long way to cre­ate a good im­pres­sion.

I charge the gun with a hand pump (sup­plied by Hull Car­tridge) and as long as you don’t have to fill from zero, bring­ing the reser­voir up to ca­pac­ity is no harder than do­ing a set of bi­cep curls. How­ever, you do need quite a bit of body weight be­hind you on the fi­nal ten pumps, so lighter shoot­ers might need to un­der­fill slightly. It’s good ex­er­cise, costs nothing and doesn’t in­volve driving any­where. Not as el­e­gant as a springer, of course, but not the night­mare some peo­ple make it out to be. Un­less we’re shoot­ing 500 shots a day, then per­haps more of us should be fill­ing in this more en­vi­ron­men­tally con­scious manner.

I’ve al­ways been a springer purist and last year’s ex­per­i­ments with the Air Arms S410 left me pretty un­der­whelmed. The S410 was ac­cu­rate, but I didn’t like the bolt-action, cocking mech­a­nism, which to me, felt un­sat­is­fy­ing in op­er­a­tion. Add to that the fact that my test ver­sion, bor­rowed from a neigh­bour, seemed to lose power af­ter only three dozen shots, and you’ll un­der­stand why I haven’t both­ered with PCPs since. I know that many peo­ple love that par­tic­u­lar ri­fle, but I was ut­terly unin­spired even if it was easy shoot. Per­haps I had bor­rowed a duff one in need of a good ser­vice. ( It’s one of the best ri­fles ever made. Ed.)

Hull Car­tridge of­fered to send me the HW100 on long-term test, and I accepted. This was partly out of cu­rios­ity to see how the novice shoot­ers on my cour­ses get on with it on the range. Some be­gin­ners find the act of break­ing a bar­rel quite chal­leng­ing, and are of­ten at risk of be­ing un­safe due to the com­bi­na­tion of phys­i­cal ex­er­tion and re­mem­ber­ing which hand goes where etc. I was also cu­ri­ous to see how the ri­fle per­formed with long-term use in the field and whether or not it would grow on me. Please don’t ex­pect a gush­ing, ‘new toy’ re­view any time soon. I’ll use it reg­u­larly and re­port back.

AN EARLY START

Af­ter ze­ro­ing – a quick process due to the limited vari­ables that af­fect ac­cu­racy on a PCP – I loaded two mag­a­zines and packed a bag for a long morn­ing in the field. I in­tended to be out from dawn un­til around 11.30am so I pre­pared some food and packed the stove, along with some new cam­era

“It can be tempt­ing to see shoot­ing as a black or white/ win or lose af­fair, but it re­ally doesn’t have to be”

traps and my binoc­u­lars.

I was up at 5.50am and as I stepped into the dark­ness with a hot mug of tea, I could al­ready hear the big fal­low buck call­ing, up in the trees half a mile or so from the house. By 6.30am I was out and walk­ing qui­etly down the shel­tered track, but had to dou­ble back as I climbed in height due the wind car­ry­ing my scent in the wrong di­rec­tion. As I en­tered the belt of mixed wood­land, I could hear him quite close, but was find­ing it hard to keep very quiet, damp as it was. Af­ter mov­ing him on twice, I sat down to lis­ten to the coun­try­side wake up. The owls slowly ceased their call­ing, the dogs began to bark, dis­tant farm­houses lit up, and grad­u­ally, both pheas­ants and farm traf­fic began to stir.

This didn’t seem to de­ter the bucks and I could now hear at least two an­i­mals call­ing from their rut­ting stands across the clear fell. As I moved in, a group of does with fawns crossed my path, head­ing in the same di­rec­tion. I con­tin­ueed my stalk and there were a few ex­cit­ing mo­ments when I came very close and even­tu­ally I star­tled one large an­i­mal on his stand less than 30 yards away. I went over to in­ves­ti­gate, found the urine patch on the ground still warm and dis­cov­ered why they say not to eat buck veni­son at this time of year be­cause the meat can be tainted. The smell is half am­mo­nia and half wild beast, unique and un­like any­thing that I’ve en­coun­tered be­fore.

Un­de­terred by my lack of stealth, I re­mem­bered that I now had at least two hours of squir­rel shoot­ing to look for­ward to, as well as the chance put up some wildlife cam­eras. This felt like a real bonus be­cause I’d al­ready had an ex­cit­ing morn­ing, but the day was dark­en­ing and the wind was pick­ing up. Be­yond the shelter of the trees, I could hear the gusts on higher ground, rush­ing like a mo­tor­way and although in the next hour I spot­ted two squir­rels gath­er­ing acorns, they seemed re­luc­tant to re- emerge af­ter they’d seen me. There was a dis­tinct ab­sence of bird­song and by 10.30am I de­cided to make some tea, set up some cam­era traps along likely trails and call it a day. I hadn’t bagged any greys this time, but I’d en­joyed my­self. I’d still call it a morn­ing’s shoot­ing, even though I didn’t press the trig­ger, and this is ex­actly the kind of trip that I’m al­ways happy to have more of; I missed my ob­jec­tives, but I reached my wider goals. Next time, I’d be slightly wiser and more knowl­edge­able.

AL­WAYS WIN­NING

It can be tempt­ing only to re­count the hunt­ing trips that re­sult in co­pi­ous bags and in­cred­i­ble shots, but if we’re hon­est, there are days when we all make mis­takes, have poor weather, or when our quarry was just too good for us. It can be tempt­ing to see shoot­ing as a black or white/win or lose af­fair, but it re­ally doesn’t have to be. If we go out to hunt rather than to kill, we need never come home frus­trated again. If we have set ob­jec­tives for our shoot­ing, let’s also have some wider goals. It could be any­thing from tak­ing pic­tures of wildlife, gath­er­ing mush­rooms, ob­serv­ing an­i­mal be­hav­iour, or iden­ti­fy­ing trees and plants. The more that we can show the peo­ple around us that shoot­ing is not just about the shot, then the better placed we are to turn pub­lic opinion in our favour. We’ll also never re­turn with the ‘empty bag blues’ be­cause we’ll al­ways have some­thing to show for our time in the field. Best of luck.

The Ver­sa­pod is sup­plied with a choice of feet to suit var­i­ous con­di­tions I ac­tu­ally en­joy fill­ing the HW100 with the hand pump

I’m still wai­itng to be con­vinced that a PCP is better than a springer

Birch poly­pore can be used as a strop

Weihrauch’s own FT- Ex­act worked per­fectly with the HW100

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